A predictable plot reveals emotional complexities.

READ REVIEW

THE BEHAVIOR OF LOVE

A marriage falls apart in 1970s Montana.

Laura is angry. Her husband, Ed, a behavioral psychiatrist, has taken a position as superintendent of a mental institution in Boulder, Montana, forcing their move from Michigan, where she was pursuing her career as an artist. She is angry, too, because he works all the time; she feels ignored; and, worse, he is obsessed with one patient, Penelope, a beautiful, intelligent 16-year-old epileptic. Angry, jealous wife; workaholic, sexually voracious husband; tempting young woman: Reeves (Work Like Any Other, 2016) plays out this well-worn triangle in chapters that shift between Laura’s first-person narration and a third-person narration that's close to Ed's perspective, arriving at a twist that finally moves the novel beyond cliché to become a sensitive examination of love, responsibility, and compassion. Ed, who frequents prostitutes for “simple pleasures and anonymity,” is stereotypically self-absorbed. Laura espouses a familiar plaint, tearfully admitting to feeling “lonely and trapped and so angry and then so sad, and he couldn’t see that I was disappearing, that I needed him.” Struggling to define herself, she secretly takes a job at a clothing boutique; when she becomes pregnant, she keeps that a secret, too, for four months. “Why the hell did it take you so long to notice?” she asks angrily when Ed finally does notice, as they are having sex in a locked classroom at the hospital. Trying to make Laura feel validated, Ed convinces her to teach art to some patients—and against her objections insists that Penelope take the class. Predictably, the girl proves to be impressively talented, producing, Laura sees, “an artist’s sketch, as good as anything I could do,” and intensifying her jealousy. Ed, innovating a policy of deinstitutionalizing high-functioning patients, sends Penelope back to her disgruntled parents, precipitating a crisis that changes his life and her own. The biggest change, though, is Ed’s fate, forcing the man who has only observed suffering to find himself—and Laura—at its vortex.

A predictable plot reveals emotional complexities.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8350-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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